Antikythera Mechanism: How It Was Found and How It Wasn’t Ransacked

Antikythera Mechanism: How It Was Found and How It Wasn’t Ransacked

On May 17, 1902, the bravery of a sponge boat crew and the observation, first of Vice-Captain Rediadis and a few months later of Minister of Education Spyridon Stais, saved from obscurity a unique discovery of archaeology, technology and science. value: the Antikythera mechanism.

This mechanism takes its name from the place where it was discovered (north-west of Antikythera). It is an old analog computer, a brilliant invention of antiquity to calculate and display the movements of celestial bodies, the position of the sun and the moon and predict their eclipses, as well as to calculate dates. But it probably had many other functions still unknown to us.

“THE STEP”, 4.1.1959, Historical Archive “THE STEP” | “THE NEWS”

How was it found?

Epaminondas Bambouris writes in “VIMA” of January 4, 1959:

“He belonged to an ancient ship that sank in Antikythera in the first century BC while they were transporting to Rome from various parts of Greece, snatching up artistic treasures.


“Finding him is very interesting. On November 6, 1900, a sponge ship from Symi of Fokas Lendiakou, commanded by D. Konton and a crew of twelve sailors and seven divers, while fishing on the northwest coast of the island, discovered at a depth of 35 fathoms a heap of marble and bronze statues, covered with huge rocks, shells and seaweed, some of which he attracted.

“These good Greek sailors, with unimaginable generosity, sent what they had discovered to the Ministry of Education and asked to send a ship with powerful winches, because, as they reported, the ancient objects were lying on the bottom, one above the other, next to the wreckage of a ship, and covered with large rocks.

“THE STEP”, 10.1.1959, Historical Archives “THE STEP” | “THE NEWS”

This is how the Greek Archaeological Service began what is probably the world’s first underwater excavation.

“Among the discoveries raised was the machine which Dr. Price told the American scientist. (ps British Professor Derek de Sola Price, physicist and historian of science, opened the way, in 1959, to the detailed study and decipherment of the Antikythera mechanism).

“This was found near the wreck surrounded by fossils and shells. The diver who found it suspected at a metal point that it was something and detached it from the other pieces of the bottom with a hammer and knocked him to the surface.

Professor Price with a model of the Antikythera Mechanism

The saving intervention of Rediadis

“When he arrived on the deck of the “Mykali”, the non-commissioned officer who transfers the objects hoisted there thought it was useless and wanted to throw it into the sea.

“However, by chance, the then vice-captain and later Admiral Rediadis was found beside him, who kept him in order to inquire about it.

“From the research we did, he was amazed, because he discovered that it was a maritime instrument from the sunken ship, unknown until that time and an amazing contribution to the history of the maritime science.

“It was what he called a ‘mechanical astrolabe.’ of the zodiac, etc., from which it appeared that a toothed wheel gave movement to the other wheels and spokes by means of a crank to maintain the stars, the Earth and the Moon around the Sun in their exact positions and to facilitate finding the vessel’s position.

Conclusions of the “Antikythera Mechanism

The second rescue

However, despite the saving intervention of Vice-Admiral Rediadis, the Antikythera Mechanism was again in danger. This time on earth:

“The device was sent to the Ethnological Museum, where it almost got lost for the second time, because the people who thought about it, like the non-commissioned officer of the “Mykalis”, had thrown it in front of the door of the Museum in the trash can, and where it was found picked up by the then Minister of Education, Stais, who was also the main researcher at the bottom of Antikythera”.

Coincidentally, Spyridon Stais, while visiting the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, noticed the mechanism among other unevaluated bronze finds.

“Then the craft was studied by many historians, sailors, archaeologists and astronomers and despite the fact that it had been crushed on the bottom by the volumes of marble crushing it and by the diver who found it and had destroyed much of its metallic structure indications and inscriptions, it became possible from its remaining elements to write entire monographs of the late P. Rediadin, K. Radon, I. Theofanidin and others and to represent his original form inasmuch as it has been proven that maritime science and its basic instruments of mechanics were incredibly developed in ancient times”.

Detail of a model of the Antikythera Mechanism

The decryption attempt continues

The Antikythera Mechanism, kept at the National Archaeological Museum, continues to be the subject of international research.

The difficulty in deciphering it and determining its functions lies in the fact that only a third of the Mechanism is estimated to have survived and that in 82 fragments.
Since 2005, the use of X-rays has led to the revelation of thousands of text characters hidden in the fragments. Among other things, the inscriptions include a description of the Cosmos, with the planets moving in rings.

One of the groups studying the mechanism is the six-member Antikythera research team at University College London (UCL), which includes archaeometallurgist Myrto Georgakopoulou and physicist Aris Dakanalis.

According to Aris Dakanalis: “Classical astronomy of the first millennium BC originated in Babylon, but there is nothing in this astronomy that shows how the ancient Greeks managed to find the very precise 462-year cycle for Venus. and 442 years for Saturn. “.

After many years of research and using an ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, the researchers managed not only to explain how the Greeks found the cycles of Venus and Saturn, but also to recreate the cycles of all other planets of the Mechanism. , for which relevant data has been lost.

As reported in 2021, Dr. Adam Wojcik of UCL’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“This is a significant theoretical advance in terms of the representation of the World in the Mechanism. Now we have to prove its applicability by doing it with ancient techniques.”

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